Casino in Small C

Mark Rudman

for Jackson Lears

But it was no longer a casino. You could not even dice for drinks in the bar.

Malcolm Lowry

I missed the turn-off for the capital ‘c’ Casino
and couldn’t find a place to turn around
and hoped the rocks on this uncombed road
battering the bottom of this rented wreck

wouldn’t crack an axle when I caught sight
of the sign for a second casino somewhere
further down the road: not a road – a space
hacked out, levelled, cleared.

It wasn’t unfortunate; it was far, far more than that.
The casino pitch black at 3 p.m.
Sunglasses removed. Imperceptible difference.
Row on row of slot machines, silvered, pristine.

The green felt jungle quiet in some nocturnal quest.
The ghosts of ruined gamblers haunt it.
To the left of entry, at the bar, underage patrons,
malignant teeth, glinting. A kid’s leer –

cadged from gang leader Valentin de Vargas’s role
in Touch of Evil.
So there really was in reality nothing to fear.
They spotted me long before I spotted them.

I listened, in the silence, for the clink
of ice cubes, rattling of dice.
My feet moved forward of their own accord,
propelled by a body that now rebels

against sunstroke, shade seeker who desires
not to be but to stay cool.
I would have turned around but for
the air-conditioned space in pained still light-

headed respite from the heat at 3 p.m.
in Santo Domingo.
It doesn’t seem possible that the clock could show
a full 12 minutes of our lives have drained away

while the barflies have kept utterly still,
as in Diego Rivera’s mural Day of the Dead.
But don’t play the fool and ask why
the lights are off at 3 p.m.

on a Sunday afternoon in a 24/7 casino.
Wait a while; it only
appears ill; it’s only a touch
of evil; it’s only temporary.